OMAHA, NEB. (AP) - Michael Roth plans to celebrate South Carolina’s second straight national championship on the Mediterranean coast.
A little Spanish, a little windsurfing _ all part of his plan while studying abroad in Alicante, Spain.
“I’m not picking up a ball,” Roth said.
Roth and the rest of the pitching staff certainly deserve some rest and relaxation after the job they did this season, which ended with a 5-2 win over Florida on Tuesday night and a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals.
South Carolina had to reset its rotation after losing All-American Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson from 2010’s title team and then readjust as injuries cropped up.
The only sure thing was Matt Price, who has been one of the nation’s top closers for two years.
“From a coaching standpoint, even though you had a good group of core players, you had to pitch,” coach Ray Tanner said. “We knew we had Price at the back end and some setup guys, but our big question was whether we were going to be able to get enough guys up front to support the core group of returners.”
Roth made a successful move from bullpen to starter, a transition that started with two impressive outings in last year’s CWS. He went 14-3 with a 1.03 ERA this season and was the winning pitcher in the title-clinching victory.
“I would have been happy with him even winning eight or nine games. Now he’s won 14,” Tanner said. “He started it for us.”
The Gamecocks also found dependable starters in Forrest Koumas and Colby Holmes after beginning the year with Steven Neff, Tyler Webb and Adam Westmoreland in the rotation.
John Taylor set a school record with 50 appearances out of the bullpen, and Price’s 20 saves were double the number he had last year.
Koumas, who pitched a strong 5 2-3 innings in Game 1 of the finals, was 6-1 as a freshman. Holmes, a sophomore who wasn’t on the 2010 postseason roster because of a hand injury, was 7-3.
The Gamecocks already were without junior Nolan Belcher and freshman Drake Thomason, both of whom had Tommy John surgery before the season. Neff developed a sore bicep and moved to the outfield to shore up another injury-depleted area. Webb also missed time with a bicep problem.
Fortunately, Roth was an anchor from start to finish.
He went 38 1-3 innings without giving up an earned run, and his ERA was lowest in the country among pitchers with more than 55 innings of work.
“I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to have Michael out front,” Tanner said. “We felt like that because we had lost Cooper, we lost Dyson. We knew what he was all about as far as the competitive mode that he would be in. But he had done a tremendous job for us as a situational lefty, had the big starts at the end of the year and we just felt that it was going to be the right thing with his presence.”
Tanner said he’s hopeful that Roth, a draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, will decide to return for his senior year and rejoin Koumas and Holmes in the rotation. Roth was noncommittal about his plans.
Taylor and fellow senior Jose Mata are the only pitchers who definitely will leave.
Price, a third-year sophomore, was drafted in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks and is expected to turn pro.
Price provided what’s sure to be one of the enduring memories for the first year of the CWS at the new TD Ameritrade Park. He worked out of three bases-loaded situations late in the 13-inning win over Virginia that put the Gamecocks in the finals.
“I can’t imagine another pitcher in college baseball or maybe professional baseball being in as many tough situations throughout the course of two seasons that we put Matt Price into,” Tanner said.
Next year’s question marks will be in the infield. There could be a hole in the middle because second baseman Scott Wingo, the CWS Most Outstanding Player, is a senior and shortstop Peter Mooney could go pro after getting drafted by Toronto.
Adrian Morales is a senior, which opens the job at third base. That leaves first baseman Christian Walker, who played the finals with a broken wrist, as the Gamecocks’ only definite returning starter in the infield.
Left fielder Jake Williams and right fielder Evan Marzilli will be back, but center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., was picked by the Boston Red Sox and will consider turning pro.
No one rules out the Gamecocks making a run at a third straight national title, not after the way they worked their late-game magic over and over to win this year. Tanner, whose .699 winning percentage in 15 years at South Carolina ranks second in Southeastern Conference history, has built a strong enough program to withstand departures.
“You get a little luck shining on you and it works out for the best,” Tanner said. “That’s what happened for us. These guys are play-makers. They’ve done a good job between the lines and we had some good fortune.”
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